Fossil-fuel subsidies are environmentally harmful, costly, and distortive. After a 3 years downward trend between 2013 and 2016, government support for fossil fuel production and use has risen again, in a threat to efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and the transition to cleaner and cheaper energy. Support across 76 countries increased by 5% to USD 340 billion in 2017, according to a new OECD-IEA report prepared for the G20.
OECD-IEA Update on Recent Progress in Reform of Inefficient Fossil Fuel Subsidies that Encourage Wasteful Consumption also shows that even in the group of 44 OECD and G20 countries, where fossil fuel support is still declining, the reduction has slowed down. Support in these countries was down 9% in 2017, a slower decline than the 12% recorded in 2016 and 19% in 2015.
The reversal comes as some countries reinstated stronger price controls on fossil fuels, in response to volatility in international oil prices, which made it harder to continue energy pricing and taxation reforms.
Some progress has nonetheless been made: the report finds that many countries, including Argentina, India, Indonesia and several Middle Eastern and Northern African economies, have continued to take steps to reduce support for energy consumption. Western Europe has completed its phasing out of hard-coal subsidies and efforts continue to end state aid to coal-fired power generation in the European Union.
Oil and gas industries in several countries, however, continue to benefit from government incentives, mostly through tax provisions that provide preferential treatment for cost recovery. Such policies go against domestic efforts to reduce emissions.
The report was presented to G20 energy officials ahead of the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment in Karuizawa, Japan, where countries reiterated their commitment to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and encouraged countries that have not done so to volunteer for a Peer Review.
“This new OECD-IEA report signals a worrying slowdown in our efforts to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The critical nature of the climate change crisis has never been clearer than it is today. Countries should be accelerating their reforms, not taking their feet off the pedal. We cannot promote inclusive and sustainable growth if we continue subsidising fossil fuels!”
The report combines the IEA’s price-gap approach to capture the transfer to consumers of policies that keep fossil fuels below reference prices and the OECD’s 2019 Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels, which takes stock of spending programmes and tax breaks used in the 36 OECD countries and eight emerging countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa) to encourage fossil fuel production or use. These include measures that reduce prices for consumers or that lower exploration and exploitation costs for oil and gas companies.
Increasing transparency on the use of scarce public resources can help to keep up momentum for fossil fuel subsidy reform. Building on the evidence brought to the table by the OECD, G20 countries committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to “rationalise and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.” Since then G20 countries – China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and the United States – have completed voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and Argentina and Canada are just starting theirs. The OECD has been asked to play Secretariat role for all the country reviews, to chair and facilitate these processes, which have to date evaluated more than 100 government interventions relating to the production and use of fossil fuels.
“OECD evidence leaves no doubt” says Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa – “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies undermine global efforts to tackle climate change, aggravate local pollution, and are a strain on public budgets, draining scarce fiscal resources that could be invested in education, skills, and physical infrastructure. We urge all G20 countries to keep up the effort, and join the voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Trade in 25 Technologies Can Help Climate Action
Based on 30 interviews with industry and academia, the Accelerating Decarbonization through Trade in Climate Goods and Services report highlights technologies with high, immediate emissions-cutting potential, in five categories – refrigerants, energy supply, buildings, transport and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The list of technologies can guide trade ministers looking to support climate action.
“Climate change is a global concern,” says Sean Doherty, Head of International Trade at the World Economic Forum. “Our response must draw upon the innovation and capacities of the whole world, not be held back by protectionism.”
Trade collaboration on climate has been limited to date with trade and climate practitioners working in separate silos. New efforts are emerging now, however, to address the linkages between these two areas.
“There is no time to waste to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” adds Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric. “We need to decarbonize three times more, three times faster. The good news is that we have the technologies to do it. Solutions are not limited to renewable energy. It actually starts with energy efficiency, electrification and digitization. If deployed at full potential, we can eliminate 70% of what we’re emitting today.”
The report also highlights non-tariff barriers that affect trade in climate technologies. Regulatory cooperation around product testing or labelling requirements, for example, could reduce friction in getting emissions-cutting goods to market. Interviewees also noted that climate action is held back by trade barriers to the services needed to operate climate technologies. The report suggests a way to identify these climate services for priority trade cooperation.
“Our transition to a low-carbon economy will hinge on the deployment of a number of key technologies that are both mature and widely available, as detailed in this important report on the nexus of decarbonization and international trade, including energy efficiency, electric vehicles, green hydrogen, smart buildings and more,” says Björn Rosengren, Chief Executive Officer of ABB. “ABB’s contributions to this new report from the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders underscore our support for removing and reducing barriers to trade in climate goods and services to speed the drawdown of global emissions.”
More efforts are needed to engage developing countries in trade efforts on climate. Over 750 million people worldwide lack reliable electricity access, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Developing economy industries must decarbonize and leapfrog the latest technologies to remain competitive in global value chains moving towards net zero. Some developing economies will need support in creating a climate-friendly trade and technology strategy. Global and local industries can help policymakers understand the criss-crossing of value chains that drive economic activity and how to align these flows to the climate agenda.
“Climate change knows no borders and encouraging better trade between countries can ensure the transfer of valuable knowledge, new technologies and skills to improve energy efficiency in homes around the world,” says Hakan Bulgurlu, Chief Executive Officer of Arcelik. “It is critical to our ultimate goal of achieving net-zero targets.”
To support an increased understanding of trade, value chains and climate action, the Climate Trade Zero community will host dialogues and support countries with actionable analysis.
East Asia and Pacific Sustaining Growth, Restraining Inflation, but Facing Risks Ahead
Growth in most of developing East Asia and the Pacific rebounded in 2022 from the effects of COVID-19, while China has lost momentum because of continued measures to contain the virus, a World Bank report said on Monday.
Looking ahead, economic performance across the region could be compromised by slowing global demand, rising debt, and a reliance on short-term economic fixes to cushion against food and fuel price increases.
Growth in developing East Asia and the Pacific outside of China is forecast to accelerate to 5.3% in 2022 from 2.6% in 2021, according to the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific October 2022 Economic Update. China, which previously led recovery in the region, is projected to grow by 2.8% in 2022, a sharp deceleration from 8.1% in 2021. For the region as a whole, growth is projected to slow to 3.2% this year from 7.2% in 2021, before accelerating to 4.6% next year, the report says.
“Economic recovery is under way in most countries of East Asia and the Pacific,” said World Bank East Asia and Pacific Vice President Manuela V. Ferro. “As they prepare for slowing global growth, countries should address domestic policy distortions that are an impediment to longer term development.”
Growth in much of East Asia and the Pacific has been driven by recovery in domestic demand, enabled by a relaxation of COVID-related restrictions, and growth in exports. China, which constitutes around 86% of the region’s output, uses targeted public health measures to contain outbreaks of the virus, inhibiting economic activity.
The global economic slowdown is beginning to dampen demand for the region’s exports of commodities and manufactured goods. Rising inflation abroad has provoked interest rate increases, which in turn have caused capital outflows and currency depreciations in some East Asia and Pacific countries. These developments have increased the burden of servicing debt and shrunk fiscal space, hurting countries that entered the pandemic with a high debt burden.
As countries of the region seek to shield households and firms from higher food and energy prices, current policy measures provide much-needed relief, but add to existing policy distortions. Controls on food prices and energy subsidies benefit the wealthy and draw government spending away from infrastructure, health and education. Lingering regulatory forbearance, aimed to ease lending through the pandemic, can trap resources in failing firms and divert capital from the most dynamic sectors or businesses.
“Policymakers face a tough tradeoff between tackling inflation and supporting economic recovery,” said World Bank East Asia and Pacific Chief Economist Aaditya Mattoo. “Controls and subsidies muddy price signals and hurt productivity. Better policies for food, fuel, and finance would spur growth and insure against inflation.”
Transition to Low-Carbon Rice Will Help Vietnam Meet Its Emission Target
Moving to low-carbon rice production offers the highest potential for Vietnam to meet its goal of cutting methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 while boosting the competitiveness of a strategic export item, a new World Bank report says.
The report, titled “Spearheading Vietnam’s Green Agricultural Transformation: Moving to Low-Carbon Rice,” suggests that Vietnam can transform the rice sector by cutting GHG emissions, improving resource efficiency and yields, boosting resilience, and diversifying production. Such transformation will require significant investment and major policy reforms to align incentives and coordinate behaviors of stakeholders at all levels.
“The agricultural sector, despite all its successes, is an important contributor to GHG emissions in Vietnam,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “It has reached a point where a transition to lower-carbon modes of farming is imperative—the longer it takes to switch, the higher the costs will be. Experience suggests that government has a catalytic role to play in driving the green transition through strategic allocation of public investment and strengthening the enabling environment for private sector participation in a modern, green agriculture sector.”
Rice, which is Vietnam’s most important crop and grown on more than half of its agricultural land area, accounts for 48 percent of the agriculture sector’s GHG emissions and over 75 percent of methane emissions. Based on conservative estimates, improving water management and optimizing application of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticide can help farmers maintain or increase yields by 5 to 10 percent and reduce input costs by 20 to 30 percent, thereby boosting net profits by around 25 percent. More importantly, these improved techniques would also help cut GHG emissions by up to 30 percent. Such approaches were successfully piloted in over 184,000 ha of rice farming under the Vietnam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation Project financed by the World Bank.
“These methods have been proven effective,” said Benoît Bosquet, World Bank Regional Director for Sustainable Development in East Asia Pacific. “If we can scale them up in the whole agricultural sector, they will help Vietnam progress towards its 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target.”
The report highlights five short- to medium-term policy areas to accelerate the transition to low-carbon agriculture, including ensuring policy coherence and plan-budget alignment, repurposing policy tools and public expenditures, promoting public investments, strengthening institutions, and enabling the private sector and other stakeholders to participate.
The report was launched at the “Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Development of the Mekong Delta” workshop, co-organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the World Bank in Can Tho on September 24.
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